Australian TV Bit on Me and the DC ATM Workshop


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Some very nice folks from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation came and interviewed me on film for a bit on folks who make their own telescopes to see the great August 2017 eclipse. Here is the link:

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Fall 2017 Hopewell Observatory Open House and Star Party November 25/26

Anybody interested in the night sky, including members of local astro clubs like NCA and NOVAC, are invited to the Fall 2017 astronomical open house and star party at Hopewell Observatory on the night of November 25 (Saturday evening and on into Sunday morning). Feel free to pass this invitation to friends, neighbors, and family and anybody else you care to notify.


We are located about 30 miles west of the Beltway on Bull Run Mountain – a ridge that overlooks Haymarket VA from an elevation of 1100 feet, near the intersection of I-66 and US-15. Detailed directions are below.


Assuming good weather, you’ll get to see planets, star clusters and nebulae and the Milky Way itself, as well as many other galaxies. If you like, you can bring a picnic dinner and a blanket or folding chairs, and/or your own telescope, if you own one and feel like carrying it. We have outside 120VAC power, if you need it for your telescope drive, but you will need your own extension cord and plug strip. If you want to camp out or otherwise stay until dawn, feel free!


Warning: While we do have bottled drinking water (and will have hot water and the makings for tea, cocoa & coffee) and we do have hand sanitizer, we do not have running water; and, our “toilet” is an outhouse of the composting variety. Plus, you may want to consider bug spray, since we are completely surrounded and protected by woods. Do check carefully for ticks when you get home. If you do apply insect repellent while visiting, please keep the spray downwind from anybody’s telescopes!!


The road up here is partly paved, and partly gravel or dirt. It’s suitable for any car except those with really low clearance, so leave your fancy sports car (if any) at home. Consider car-pooling, because we don’t have huge parking lots. We will have signs up at various places along the way to help guide you, and will try to have parking spaces denoted.


Two of our telescope mounts are permanently installed in the observatory under a roll-off roof. We have others that we roll out onto the grass in our roughly one-seventh-acre field. We have two 14-inch scopes (one hand-made Dob and one Celestron SCT), a 30-cm Wright-Newtonian entirely built by our oldest member, and a 10” f/9 reflecting scope also made by hand. The entire observatory was hand-built, and is maintained, by the labor of its founders and current members.


The drive is about an hour from DC. After parking at a cell-phone tower installation, you will need to hike about 100 yards to our observatory. Physically handicapped people, and any telescopes, can be dropped off at the observatory itself, and then the vehicle will need to go back to park near that tower. To look through some of the various telescopes you will need to climb some stairs or ladders, so keep that in mind when making your plans.


It’s not the inky-scary dark of the Chilean Atacama or the Rockies, but Hopewell Observatory is mostly surrounded by nature preserves maintained by the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy and other such agencies. Also, our Prince William and Fauquier neighbors and officials have done a pretty good job of insisting on smart lighting in the new developments around Haymarket and Gainesville, which benefits everybody. So, while there is a pretty bright eastern horizon because of DC and its VA suburbs, we can still see the Milky Way whenever it’s clear and moonless.


This will be the official night of New Moon for October 2016. Venus and Saturn will be setting soon after the Sun, which will set at 6:12 pm with real darkness (and the end of all twilight) holding off for about another hour. The sun will rise at about 7:36 the next morning. Mars will be low in the south-west at sunset, and Jupiter will rise shortly before dawn.


We should also be able to track down and examine many, many deep-sky objects, including the famous Andromeda galaxy and the Orion nebula.

You can find detailed directions and a map to the observatory below:



[Note: if you have a GPS navigation app, then you can simply ask it to take you to 3804 Bull Run Mountain Road, The Plains, VA. That will get you to step 6, below.]

(1) From the Beltway, take I-66 west about 25 miles to US 15 (Exit 40) at Haymarket. At the light at the end of the ramp, turn left/south onto US 15. (Exit is at approximately latitude 38°49’00″N, longitude 77°38’15″W.)

(2) Go 0.25 mi; at the second light turn right/west onto VA Rt. 55. There is a Sheetz gas station & convenience store at this intersection, along with a CVS, a McDonald’s, and a Walmart-anchored shopping center on the NW corner. This is a good place to stop for restrooms or supplies.

(3) After 0.7 mi on Va 55, turn right (north) onto Antioch Rd., Rt. 681. You will pass entrances for Boy Scouts’ Camp Snyder and the Winery at La Grange. (38°49’12″N, 77°39’29″W)

(4) Follow Antioch Rd. to its end (3.2 mi), then turn left (west) onto Waterfall Rd. (Rt. 601), which will become Hopewell Rd. (38°51’32″N, 77°41’10″W)

(5) After 1.0 mi, bear right onto Bull Run Mountain Rd., Rt. 629 (this is beyond Mountain Rd.). This will be the third road on the right, after Mountain Rd. and Donna Marie Ct. (38°52’00″N, 77°42’08″W) Please note that Google Earth and Google Maps show a non-existent road, actually a power line, in between Donna Marie Ct. and Bull Run Mtn. Rd.

(6) In 0.9 mi, enter the driveway on the right, with the orange pipe gate. There is a locked stone and metal gate on the left, opposite our entrance, labeled 3804 Bull Run Mountain Road. Don’t take that road – it goes to an FAA radar dome. Instead, go to the right (east). We’ll have some signs up. This is a very sharp right hand turn. (38°52’36″N, 77°41’55″W)

(7) Follow the narrow paved road up the ridge to the cell phone tower station. You should park around the tower (any side is fine) or in the grassy area before the wooden sawhorse barrier. Then you should walk the remaining hundred meters to the observatory on foot. Be sure NOT to block the right-of-way for automobiles.

(8) If you are dropping off a scope or a handicapped person, move the wooden barrier out of the way temporarily, and drive along the grassy track to the right of the station, into the woods, continuing south, through (or around) a white metal bar gate. The few parking places among the trees near our operations cabin, the small house-like structure in the woods, are reserved for Observatory members. If you are dropping off a handicapped person or a telescope, please do so and then drive your car back and park near the cell phone tower.

Please watch out for pedestrians, especially children! The observatory itself is in the clearing a short distance ahead. We do not have streetlights, and there will not be any Moon to light your way, so a flashlight is a good idea. In the operations cabin we have a supply of red translucent plastic film and tape and rubber bands so that you can filter out everything but red wavelengths on your flashlight. This will help preserve everybody’s night vision. In the cabin we also have a visitor sign-in book; a supply of hot water; the makings of hot cocoa, tea, and instant coffee; hand sanitizer; as well as paper towels, plastic cups and spoons.

The location of the observatory is approximately latitude 38°52’12″N, longitude 77°41’54″W. The drive takes about 45 minutes from the Beltway. A map to the site follows. If you get lost, you can call me on my cell phone at 202 dash 262 dash 4274.

hopewell map revised

Calculations with a Curious Cassegrain


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I continue to try to determine the foci of the apparent hyperbolic primary on the Hopewell Ealing 12inch cassegrain, which has serious optical problems.

My two given pieces of information are that the mirror has a radius of curvature (R) of 95 inches by my direct measurement, and its Schwarzschild constant of best fit,(generally indicated by the letter K)  according to FigureXP using my six sets of Couder-mask Foucault readings, is -1.112.

I prefer to use the letter p, which equals K + 1. Thus, p = -0.112. I decided R should be negative, that is, off to the left (I think), though I get the same results, essentially, if R is positive, just flipped left-and-right.

One can obtain the equation of any conic by using the formula

Y^2 – 2Rx + px^2 = 0.

When I plug in my values, I get

Y^2 + 190x -0.112x^2 = 0.

I then used ordinary completing-the-square techniques to find the values of a, b, and c when putting this equation in standard form, that is something like y^2/a^2 – x^2/b^2 = 1

Omitting some of the steps because they are a pain to type, and rounding large values on this paper to the nearest integer (but not in my calculator), I get

I got

y^2 – 0.112(x – 848)^2 = – 80540

and eventually

(x – 848)^2 / 848^2 – y^2 / 248^2 = 1

Which means that a is 848 inches, which is over 70 feet, and b is 284 inches, or almost 24 feet. Since a^2 + b^2 = c^2, then c is about 894. And the focal points are 894 inches from the center of the double-knapped hyperboloid, which is located at (848, 0), so it looks a lot like this:

cass equations

Which of the two naps of this conic section is the location of the actual mirror? I suppose it doesn’t make a big difference.

Making that assumption that means that the foci of this hyperbolic mirror are about 894 – 848 = 46 inches from the center of the primary mirror. I don’t have the exact measurement from the center of the primary to the center of the secondary, but this at least gives me a start. That measurement will need to be made very, very carefully and the location of the secondary checked in three dimensions so that the ronchi lines are as straight as possible.

It certainly does not look like the common focal point for the primary and secondary will be very far behind the front of the secondary!

Bob Bolster gave me an EXTREMELY fast spherical mirror that is about f/0.9 and has diameter 6 inches. I didn’t think at first that would be useful for doing a Hindle sphere test, since I thought that the focal point in back of the secondary would be farther away. But now I think it will probably work after all. (Excellent job as usual, Bob!) (I think)


A Recent Image of M-13, the Great Hercules Globular Cluster

Last weekend I practiced doing some astro-imaging during a beautiful night that featured a nearly full moon night, up at Hopewell Observatory. I was particularly concerned with getting decent ‘flat’, ‘dark’ and ‘bias’ subframes, which are shots where you take images of what appears to be nothing at all. However, using those apparently ‘nothing’ subframes, you can subtract out noise and unwanted internal signals, in order to get decent images. I was using a Celestron 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on an ancient Ealing mount whose drive has some problems; as a result my ‘light’ sub-frames could only be 2 minutes long. I am also using a second-hand Canon EOS Xsi 450D DSLR camera that has had the infrared-rejection filter removed.

I did the stacking and registering and removal of noise using a program called Deep Sky Stacker, with no further processing. One day I will learn how to adjust colors with something like Pixinsight to make it look more beautiful I was fairly pleased with the results, which you can see here:

m13 as png file from hopewell labor day 2017

Trying to Test a 50-year-old Cassegran Telescope


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We at the Hopewell Observatory have had a classical 12″ Cassegrain optical tube and optics that were manufactured about 50 years ago.; They were originally mounted on an Ealing mount for the University of Maryland, but UMd at some point discarded it, and the whole setup eventually made its way to us (long before my time with the observatory).


The optics were seen by my predecessors as being very disappointing. At one point, a cardboard mask was made to reduce the optics to about a 10″ diameter, but that apparently didn’t help much. The OTA was replaced with an orange-tube Celestron 14″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on the same extremely-beefy Ealing mount, and it all works reasonably well.


Recently, I was asked to check out the optics on this original classical Cassegrain telescope, which is supposed to have a parabolic primary and a hyperbolic secondary. I did Ronchi testing, Couder-Foucault zonal testing, and double-pass autocollimation testing, and I found that the primary is way over-corrected, veering into hyperbolic territory. In fact, Figure XP claims that the conic section of best fit has a Schwartzschild constant of about -1.1, but if it is supposed to be parabolic, then it has a wavefront error of about 5/9, which is not good at all.

Here are the results of the testing, if you care to look. The first graph was produced by a program called FigureXP from my six sets of readings:

figure xp on the 12 inch cass

my graph of 12 inch cass readings

I have not yet tested the secondary or been successful at running a test of the whole telescope with an artificial star. For the indoor star test, it appears that it only comes to a focus maybe a meter or two behind the primary! Unfortunately, the Chevy Chase Community Center where we have our workshop closes up tight by 10 pm on weekdays and the staff starts reminding us of that at about 9:15 pm. Setting up the entire indoor star-testing rig, which involves both red and green lasers bouncing off known optical flat mirrors seven times across a 60-foot-long room in order to get sufficient separation for a valid star test, and moving two very heavy tables into said room, and then putting it all away when we are done, because all sorts of other activities take place in that room. So we ran out of time on Tuesday the 5th.

A couple of people (including Michael Chesnes and Dave Groski) have suggested that this might not be a ‘classical Cassegrain’ – which is a telescope that has a concave, parabolic primary mirror and a convex, hyperbolic secondary. Instead, it might be intended to be a Ritchey-Chretien, which has both mirrors hyperbolic. We have not tried removing the secondary yet, and testing it involves finding a known spherical mirror and cutting a hole in its center, and aligning both mirrors so that the hyperboloid and the sphere have the exact same center. (You may recall that hyperboloids have two focal points, much like ellipses do.)

Here is a diagram and explanation of that test, by Vladimir Sacek at

hindle sphere test

FIGURE 56: The Hindle sphere test setup: light source is at the far focus (FF) of the convex surface of the radius of curvature RC and eccentricity ε, and Hindle sphere center of curvature coincides with its near focus (NF). Far focus is at a distance A=RC/(1-ε) from convex surface, and the radius of curvature (RS) of the Hindle sphere is a sum of the mirror separation and near focus (NF) distance (absolute values), with the latter given by B=RC/(1+ε). Thus, the mirrorseparation equals RS-B. The only requirement for the sphere radius of curvature RS is to be sufficiently smaller than the sum of near and far focus distance to make the final focus accessible. Needed minimum sphere diameter is larger than the effective test surface diameter by a factor of RS/B. Clearly, Hindle test is limited to surfaces with usable far focus, which eliminates sphere (ε=0, near and far focus coinciding), prolate ellipsoids (1>ε>0, near and far foci on the same, concave side of the surface), paraboloid (ε=1, far focus at infinity) and hyperboloids close enough to a paraboloid to result in an impractically distant far focus.

We discovered that the telescope had a very interesting DC motor – cum – potentiometer assembly to help in moving the secondary mirror in and out, for focusing and such. We know that it’s a 12-volt DC motor, but have not yet had luck tracking down any specifications on that motor from the company that is the legatee of the original manufacturer.

Here are some images of that part:

Magic in the Night Air

My cell phone can’t do it justice with pictures, but I’m in an enchanted land right now.

There is something magical about being outside on a very pleasant summer night at 2 AM, away from any city lights, at our observatory on Bull Run Mountain. I’m well-napped and caffeinated, standing on a platform, surrounded by silver light, trees, our observatory, grass, and deep shadows. Because of this nearly-full moon, I didn’t need any flashlight to make my way between buildings, and now I’m listening to the cicadas, tree frogs and katydids, and also doing astronomy — or at least trying (with some success) to do various experiments with our equipment! And we have a cell phone signal strong enough for me to post this!

(ICYWTK, I’m imaging the very famous M13 — the great globular cluster in Hercules — as well as the also-famous Double Cluster, trying various settings on the mount and camera, more for my edification than to do any original research… I also tried using the Full Moon filtered through my T-shirt to produce “flat frames”. ICYDK, you have to subtract the signal in the flat frame from the signal in your “light frames” — the images you take of the star or galaxy or whatever — in order to get rid of noise and other distortions… It’s all complex mathematical algorithms today to produce those pretty astro photographs we live to enjoy…)

Being outside under the moon and stars on a nice summer night is something few of us get to do anymore. But it’s MAGIC. Try it some day.

A whole bunch of pix, combined with great skill, hardware, and software, equals what I saw during totality!

Jerry Rodrigues has actually managed to capture what I was able to see during the total eclipse of August 21, 2017. It’s a really great image, composed of many, many separate images captured between 2 seconds long to 1/4000 of a second. And then all those sub-images were combined together with great finesse, skill, and software.

Very remarkable.

This is what you missed, and it’s close to what I was trying to draw in my last post.

Here is the link:

An Eclipse Seen in Wyoming


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I was fortunate enough to have the time and cash to go to Wyoming for the August 21 eclipse. It was truly wonderful,. in large part due to the fact that I had made a 6″ diameter, f/8 Dob-Newt travel telescope that could play three roles: as an unfiltered projection scope onto a manila folder before and after totality; with a stopped-down Baader solar filter during and after totality; and with no filter at all during the two minutes or so of totality.

No photographic image that I have so far seen comes anywhere near the incredible details that I was able to see during those short two minutes.

Here is my not-very-expert drawing of what I recall seeing:

solar eclipse

The red rim on the upper left is the ‘flash spectrum’, or chromosphere. It was only visible for a few seconds at the very beginning of the eclipse. The corona is the white fuzzy lines, but my drawing doesn’t do them justice. On the bottom, and on the right, are some amazing solar prominences — something that I don’t recall having seen in 1994, my first successful solar eclipse. The bottom one might not have been quite that large, but it really got my attention.

Here are a few photos I took before and after totality:

I started planning this expedition over a year ago, and hoped to attend the Astronomical League meeting in Casper, WY. I quickly found that there were absolutely no rooms to be had there, even a year in advance.

Wyoming has fewer people than my home town (Washington DC), and not many populated places in the path of totality. However, I did find a motel in tiny Lander, Wyoming, very close to the southern edge — a location that I had previously found to be very good for viewing eclipses. One of the fellows in our telescope-making workshop, Oscar O (an actual PhD solar astrophysicist) decided he would bring some family and friends along and camp there to view it with me. So he did (see the group photo).

The night before, we went to a site near Fossil Hill, WY to look at stars. The Milky Way was amazing, stretching from northern to southern horizon, and the sky was very, very dark. We met a baking-soda miner (actually, a trona miner) and his 10-year-old daughter; she had a great time aiming my telescope, via Telrad, at interesting formations in the Milky Way. My friends from DC whipped up an amazing dinner on their tiny camp stove. There were LOTS of people camping in the back country there; I bet most of them were there to view the eclipse!

On the eve and morning of the eclipse, after consulting various weather ‘products’, we decided that the predicted clouds in Lander itself would be a problem. (I had been clouded out before, with my wife and children, back in 1991, in Mexico! It really spoils the experience, I assure you!)

So we drove north and west, through the Wind River Indian Reservation, and picked a spot just east of the tiny town of Dubois at a pulloff for a local fish hatchery. Along the drive to that location, we saw lots of folks had set up camp for the event at various pulloffs and driveways to nowhere. (If you didn’t know, Wyoming is mostly devoid of people, but has lots of fields and barbed wire fence. Many of those fields have driveways leading to some sort of gate, most of which are probably used at least three times every decade, if you get my drift….)

Not only is Wyoming largely empty (of people), but the path of totality in the United States was so long that I estimated that if the ENTIRE population of the USA were to decide to go view the eclipse, and somehow could magically spread themselves out evenly over the 70-mile-wide, and 3000-mile-long, path on dry land, that there would only be about 3 people per acre!

Here’s the math: 70 miles times 3000 miles is 210,000 square miles. The population of the USA is about 330,000,000. Divide the population by the area, and you get about 1600 people per square mile. But there are 640 acres in a square mile, so if you divide 1600 by 640, you get less than 3 people per acre, or 3 people on a football field (either NFL or FIFA; it doesn’t matter which).

(…looking to the future, the next decent eclipse doesn’t seem to occur anywhere in this hemisphere until 2024, when it will cross from Texas to Maine…)

As you can see from my photos, the little travel scope I made, called Guy’s Penny Tube-O III, performed very well. Before and after totality, we used it both for solar projection onto a manila folder, through the eyepiece. I also had fashioned a stopped-down solar filter with a different piece of cardboard and a small piece of Baader Solar Film. With both methods, we could clearly see a whole slew of sunspots, in great detail (umbra and penumbra) as well as the moon slowly slipping across the disk of the sun. Having the sunspots as ‘landmarks’ helped us to watch the progress!

Then, during totality, after the end of Baily’s Beads and the Diamond Ring, I took off the filter and re-adjusted the focus slightly, and was treated to the most amazing sight – a total eclipse, with coronal streamers to the left and right; the ‘flash spectrum’ appearing and winking out on the upper left-hand quadrant (iirc); and numerous solar flares/prominences.

I got generous and allowed a few other people to look, but only for a few seconds each! Time was precious, and I had spent so much work (and airfare) building, and re-building, and transporting that telescope there!

Planets? I didn’t see any, but others did. Apparently Regulus was right next to the Sun, but I wasn’t paying attention.

The corona and solar flares were much, much more pronounced than I recall from 1994.

That afternoon, the town of Lander had the largest traffic jam they had ever had, according to locals I talked to. Driving out of there on that afternoon was apparently kind of a nightmare: the state had received a million or so visitors, roughly double its normal population, and there just aren’t that many roads. I chose to spend the night in Lander and visited from friends I had gotten to know, who are now living in Boulder, on the night after that. Unfortunately, on that next day, I got a speeding ticket and a citation for reckless driving (I was guilty as hell!) for being too risky and going too fast on route 287, trying to pass a bunch of cars that I thought were going too slow…

When I did fly out from Denver, on Wednesday, all the various inspections of my very-suspicious-looking and very-heavy luggage caused me to miss my flight, so I went on standby. It wasn’t too bad, and I was only a few hours later than I had originally planned. And my lost suitcase was delivered to my door the next day, so that was good.

I am now in the process of making this travel scope lighter. I have removed the roller-skate wheels and replaced them with small posts, saving several pounds. I have begun using a mill to remove a lot of the metal from the struts. And I will also fabricate some sacks that I can fill with local rocks, instead of using the heavy and carefully machined counterweights! (Rocks are free, gut going over 50 pounds in your luggage can be VERY expensive!)


By the way: unless you like to travel with no luggage at all, NEVER use Spirit Airlines! They may be a few dollars cheaper, but they will even charge you for a carry-on bag! What’s next? Charging you for oxygen?



Almost ready for the eclipse!

After spending most of the day making last minute modifications to my scope, it’s almost ready!

Among other things, I attached a shroud made of black 4 mil plastic sheeting and stabilized the mount so the OTA doesn’t fall out of the rocker box.

Just now, I was able to get both a white light image of the Sun thru a Baader filter (stopped down to f/24) as well as projection onto white paper. There is quite a display of major sun spots, all in a row, right near the center!

Yay! My work finally paid off!

(Photos will follow)